On the Other Side of Right

| | General Leadership

In a previous post titled Who is Right? I wrote about the cost of being right and the dangers of righteousness.  Starting with an example of a company providing customer service, I expanded the conversation to how this applies to a leader.  Here I am going to explore how it applies to every one of us in everyday life.

We all have moments when we are being right and/or righteous.  We can choose to be aware or not and act accordingly:  yet what about when we are “on the other side of right”?

How can we deal with someone who is being right about their point of view or even about us?

It happens all the time.  Sometimes we can just brush it off easily recognizing the situation for what it is.  Other times we get upset, even very upset; possibly because it affects something or someone we care deeply about or reminds us of a painful situation from our past.

Quite a few people shared with me their own current experiences of being on “the other side of right” this week.  I am in the middle of a situation of my own as well.  There’s nothing like first hand experience to remind me of just how hard it can be.   Unfortunately, I am also reminded that there are no easy answers.  These situations are often complex.  So what I am sharing here is not a formula, but rather a reflection on both what it is like to be” on the other side of right” and some thoughts on how to navigate the territory in a way that honors you and your commitments, especially the commitments you have to yourself.

So what is it like to be on the other side of right?

There is no being heard whether we get the opportunity to speak or not.

When people believe they are right they tend to listen only to those that agree with them.  There is often a lot more gossip going on than straight conversation with those who are deemed as being “wrong”. Yet when someone is being right about us or their point of view, they rarely see a reason to even talk with us about our point of view, let along actually hear us.  After all, if they are right then we are obviously wrong.  So what is there to talk about?  What could they possibly hear other than that which affirms what they already believe to be true?

Conclusions are drawn and labels are often assigned.

It is not a far leap for people to make from what you did was wrong to who you are is bad, unworthy, stupid, careless, pushy, etc.  In the moment it can feel like an all out character assault that can test our self esteem.  And for the long term it can leave an interpretation about us in the minds of others that we will have to continue to deal with regardless of whether it is valid or not.

Possibility is shut down, and replaced by survival.

We may feel frustrated, angry, and/or sad. In the worst of situations we can feel powerless.  It can even feel a bit like being assaulted, maybe not on our physical person, but on our identity or our character.  We may feel compelled to either defend ourselves or go on the attack.  Or we may completely shut down.  Being on the other side of right does not usually bring out the best in us.  Sometimes we do a better job than others at managing our reactions and emotions in the situation, but I would venture to say it is never a pleasant experience.  And survival can result in us behaving in ways that are not even consistent for us.

We have all been on the other side of right.  We are likely to be there again in small ways and in big ways. We are also all likely to be right ourselves on occasion.  Wars are waged because “we” are right and “they” are wrong.  Welcome to our humanity.  This will not change.  But we can learn to make choices that empower us, that contribute to peace, that open possibility, and even that contribute to healing ourselves, our organizations and our communities.

So what choices can we make?

I’ll start with the options our emotions usually select from:.

1.      We can fight. We can meet their righteousness with our own righteousness.  We can build our own camp of agreement to fortify our position.  But can we really win?   And even if we do “win”, consider what do we actually win?

2.      We can defend ourselves. Yet when you are presumed guilty (or wrong) what is the point of your defense?  Consider that your attempts at defense are likely to be futile.

3.     We can feign agreement or apologize for something we do not even believe we did wrong in the hope of making peace. Why not just let them think they are right and that you agree with them.  Yet how much energy does it take to sustain a lie?  And while either may open a door into the other’s world the price may be our integrity with ourselves, taking a notch out of our self esteem.

5.     We can walk away or turn the other cheek so we don’t have to deal with it or simply continue on stoically. The question we must ask ourselves here though is: will we be able to let it go or will we carry it with us even when we are out of the situation?  Either way we must consider the energetic cost.

Ultimately, here are our fundamental choices as I see it:

1. We can “take the high road”, a thinly veiled disguise of our real feelings and reactions that may make us look good and even allow us to be right about how good we are that we are rising above the situation.

2. We can “taken the low road”, and perhaps enjoy bit of short term satisfaction only to potentially endure the long term cost on our souls and identity.

3. We can choose our own road, the one that empowers us the most and is consistent with our commitments and who we want to be.

One thing is certain:  the moment we choose based on our commitments and our own integrity, we get our power back.

How do we choose our own road?  Here are some questions we can reflect on to support us in creating the path that honors us and what we stand for:

1. What can I take personal responsibility for that is authentic, that I can truly own?

2. What is at stake here – for me, for the others involved, for the larger commitments this affects – that I would be willing to take a stand for here?

3. What could the best possible outcome look like?

4. Given all of that what could I do now that could make a difference in creating that outcome?  Who can I ask for help?

5. What am I learning?

You may try many things, giving it your best shot and fail anyway.  Remember that you don’t have any control over what the other person does or does not do in response to your actions or your words.  Yet I’ll suggest there is a lot for you and others around you to gain personally if your actions are based on your answers to these questions.  And on those occasions when you do succeed everyone wins.

In the end, you may choose to walk away or simply turn the other cheek for just a little longer.  Just make sure if you do either that you do so in a way that you keep your personal integrity intact.  And be sure to leave the baggage behind.

What strategies have you used successfully to deal with being “on the other side of right?”


Enter A Comment

Meredith Bell   |   18 November 2009   |   Reply

Excellent post, Susan. You articulated the problem and our options very clearly. In these situations, the skill of dialogue is critical. I first learned the real meaning of that word almost 20 years ago in Peter Senge’s now-classic book, The Fifth Discipline. Once again, listening is the foundation skill, with INQUIRING being the first step so we truly understand where the other person is coming from – the assumptions and reasoning that support their opinion/position – followed by ADVOCATING our own opinions. I thought Senge’s notion of sharing the “left-hand” column was brilliant – what are both of us feeling/thinking but NOT saying? When we can peel back the layers to get at what’s really behind our positions, we reach a level of honesty and openness that fosters discussion of solutions that can meet both our needs.

I’ve been in situations where (per your earlier post and comments) ego got in the way of satisfactory resolution – either mine or the other person’s – or both. When I’m able to set my own ego aside, get real, and make it safe for the other person to open up, resolution and even transformation of the relationship is possible. I’ve experienced it personally, and I’ve facilitated it – and there’s nothing quite like it to move a relationship or situation beyond “stuck” to win-win.

Susan Mazza   |   19 November 2009   |   Reply

Thank you Meredith. I am a big fan of Peter Senge and his work. A brilliant guy and a class act! The 5th Discipline is a fabulous and timeless book.

Appreciate you introducing some of the tools that are not only effective, but essential to getting to the other side!

Mary Jo Asmus posted a wonderful post on the power of dialogue titled “From Judgment to Curiosity” that is also in line with what you are saying here http://www.aspire-cs.com/from-judgment-to-curiosity

Monica Diaz   |   18 November 2009   |   Reply

Following your thread of thought from the last post, I love that you are putting yourself on both sides of the issue! It such an inherent part of human experience to realize that we play both sides of the table. Thank you for reminding us that.
The need to be right is nothing but defensiveness. There is an underlying insecurity that makes any opposing force a threat. So, when you are on the other side of right, you might do well to realize that the person in front of you is afraid. Afraid of being wrong and, consequently of the possibility that you may be right about what you disagree on.
It is utterly pointless to try to convince these people since they will relentlessly defend their point of view (as you would, if you needed to be right) 😉 Better, to understand what is behind it. Remember, understanding is NOT the same as agreeing. Lose your own fear of them being right and consider what it would mean if they were. Explore. Delve. Listen. You will surely find insights into what leads them in this direction (an you in the other, for that matter).
If you are feeling hurt about what they are saying, talk about your reactions and what happens when they are so adamant about that with you. Reveal to them the part they do not know about: the effect of their righteousness on you and others. When you are true and honest about this, it does not spark argument, it generates empathy.
Marvel in how someone could reach such different conclusions from yours. Surely, more people than this one individual think in the same way. Do they arouse your own defensiveness? Do they surprise you? Do they anger you? You can learn a lot from exploring this one interaction. Otheresteem can be a road to self discovery in this way. A short road, chock full of learning!

Susan Mazza   |   19 November 2009   |   Reply

Thank you so much for sharing your insight and wisdom Monica. Every time we find ourselves in this kind of situation (either side actually) truly is an opportunity for growth and learning.

This statement in particular struck me as big very important in dealing with these situations: “The need to be right is nothing but defensiveness. There is an underlying insecurity that makes any opposing force a threat.”

Bear Files   |   18 November 2009   |   Reply

Great post! I like the way you break down the problem into pieces. It all points to the importance of being flexible – I’ve heard the skill called “situational fluency” in a great sales book called Solution Selling.

This happens all the time in the creative design and ad agency world. The web or print design concepts are presented to the client and when the client inevitably has a few changes the creative team feels the need to justify the initial design to the point where any changes to it are considered “ill advised”. Certainly we as creatives have thought out our initial drafts and feel good about them exactly as they are. But my personal “aha” moments often come after I have listened carefully to a client about why they want to make a certain change. Often times I find that their objectives can be better met by making some sort of change. By listening and being flexible, while also being honest about changes I truly feel will reduce the quality/effectiveness of the piece, I am able to satisfy clients and more easily get their buy in on creative designs.

Susan Mazza   |   19 November 2009   |   Reply

Great points Bear. It is in those moments when we choose to put our defensiveness and attachment to our ideas aside that the magic of collaboration reveals itself.

Mike Henry   |   18 November 2009   |   Reply

I’m hesitant to comment because I don’t want to be right.

Oh, wait! Shouldn’t someone be right? Let’s all be right and just stop making people feel like they’re not. And when someone insists I’m not right, I try very hard to judge myself as objectively as possible and get back on mission.

When we’re not right, are we wrong, or left?

Great, thoughtful post as usual. Thanks, Mike…

Susan Mazza   |   19 November 2009   |   Reply

I like that idea – let’s all be right, just stop making other people feel like they are not!

You are always welcome to be right here Mike!

Tom Volkar / Big Link Rally   |   19 November 2009   |   Reply

Susan, thanks so much for this powerful look into options.

I’m often reminded of the only four choices we have when faced with challenging situations. We can resist. We can remove ourselves. We can work with the other to change the situation. Or we can simply accept that that’s the way it is and get on with living. Obviously acceptance is the authentic choice you recommend. When we really get that acceptance is not agreement but simply a choice that allows us to be without being emotionally disturbed – then we have chosen peace.

Susan Mazza   |   19 November 2009   |   Reply

Your point that “acceptance is not agreement but simply a choice that allows us to be without being emotionally disturbed” is well stated.

Although I don’t think acceptance is the only authentic choice. When there is opportunity to work to change the situation I think we should go for it. Yet there is a satisfaction we get from working it out – an kind of itch we get to scratch called closure or resolution. Acceptance is sometimes our only available choice – it is a very freeing choice to be certain but is perhaps the most difficult of all.

Thanks Tom!

Tom Volkar / Big Link Rally   |   19 November 2009   |  

I agree. Acceptance is not the only authentic choice I didn’t intend to give that impression. Walking away (removing ourselves form the situation) is authentic as well as working to change it as you state. But now I’m wondering if even resistance can be an authentic choice if it’s aligned with who we are and the only choice we can see to make in that moment?

Gwyn Teatro   |   20 November 2009   |  

When I was attending classes for coaching certification, one of the operating principles used and agreed to was “No one gets to be wrong”.
I liked that principle very much because it allowed for a greater level of tolerance between and among participants when disagreements arose.
Subsequently, I used the “No one gets to be wrong” principle when facilitating meetings or workshops and found that it allowed much more room for opposing perspectives than it might have otherwise. People seemed to stand back just a little longer to consider opposing viewpoints and look for what actually might be right about what was being said.

On a personal level, sometimes, in the heat of the moment, I forget this very simple principle and the outcome is rarely satisfactory. But, when I remember it, I find I’m better able to stand back from the situation and consider perspectives other than my own with more grace.

Thanks for another thought-provoking post, Susan.

Ron Hurst   |   19 November 2009   |   Reply

Susan great post. Thoughtful introspective and balanced. I particularly like the questions you suggest be asked. All five are right on for a growing effective leader.

I particlarly like the second question as it really attacks our ego. The ability to see past our own perspective and selfishness toward a vision of whether the point of disagreement has any real consequence is significant. Walk away if the disagreement is over something minor.

There is one other possible question to consider here and I think I will blog about it on my website http://developaleader.com, that is what can I do to truly understand where the otehr person is coming from. In my estimation this is a critical step to trying to find a win win answer.

great article

lead well


Susan Mazza   |   19 November 2009   |   Reply

Thank you Ron. I will look forward to that post.

I was thinking this morning that nothing is worth fighting over, but there are a lot of things worth fighting for. It is only when we get our ego out of the way that we can actually discern the latter for ourselves.

Jane Perdue   |   19 November 2009   |   Reply

Susan — a very thoughtful and complete post! One thing we do control is our attitude…so making a personal, authentic commitment to embracing a win-win approach can help everyone stay on the right side of right!

Susan Mazza   |   19 November 2009   |   Reply

So true Jane. And even when we may be victimized by another’s righteousness we do not have to be victims.

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